DreamHost pushed back against a warrant to give the government data on visitors to a website that organized protests against Trump on Inauguration Day.
DreamHost pushed back against a warrant to give the government data on visitors to a website that organized protests against Trump on Inauguration Day.

The Justice Department has pressed DreamHost to hand over what amounts to more than 1.3 million IP addresses associated with visitors to disruptj20.org, the group that organized protests against President Donald Trump on Inauguration Day 2017. 

Armed with a July 12 search warrant authorized by a federal district court in Washington, D.C., for “the individuals who participated, planned, organized, or incited the January 20 riot," the Justice Department met with resistance from DreamHost, which called the request that also asks for contact information and email content on visitors to the site "a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.”

The data "could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution's First Amendment," DreamHost said in a blog post. "That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone's mind."

After its bid that the government narrow the scope of its request was rebuffed, DreamHost petitioned a Superior Court in D.C. to deny the government's motion because it violates both the Fourth Amendment and the Privacy Protection Act.

"Because it requires the disclosure of every piece of electronic information related to a website, including a large amount of information about the protected activities of third parties, the government's Search Warrant requires scrutiny of 'particular exactitude.' Scrutiny of this type demonstrates that the warrant lacks the specificity required by the Fourth Amendment and is unreasonable as a whole," the company wrote in its motion before the court. "Without any specification from the government, particularly given the over-expansive language of the Search Warrant, the Court should not compel DreamHost to provide all material to the government without a determination whether such material is intended for publication and if such material qualifies either as 'work product' or 'documentary material'" protected by the Privacy Act.

Digital rights advocates have thrown their support behind the web-hosting company. "No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible. But the Fourth Amendment was designed to prohibit fishing expeditions like this," the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Staff Attorney Mark Rumold wrote in a blog post that applauded DreamHost for its response. "Those concerns are especially relevant here, where DOJ is investigating a website that served as a hub for the planning and exercise of First Amendment-protected activities."

The Superior Court will entertain the DreamHost motion at an August 18 hearing.